It’s better that we have a trip planner than not, but sometimes its attempts to keep people off light rail* border on the comical:

The other two itineraries didn’t include Link either.

* I don’t think there’s actually a conspiracy; it’s just flawed software.

50 Replies to “Adventures in Trip Planner”

  1. I’ve had that problem once when I asked it to take me from “AIRPORT SEATAC” to “3RD & UNION” (and, BTW Trip Planner, yes I meant the one in Seattle)

      1. “Goldang it, I wanna get home to my big house on the cul-de-sac whose exact address and street I can’t remember, not that big-city place with the tall buildings! This newfangled tech-nol-lo-gee stuff just doesn’t work.”

      2. Sure I’m sure I don’t want 3rd Street & Union Ave in Marysville, I want 3rd Ave & Union St in Downtown Seattle ;)

  2. Could we please have some comments from people who actually set up and operate the Trip Planner, so we can understand what needs to be done to improve it? The problem has become more critical now that KC Metro Transit shuts down its phone information at 10pm weeknights.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I’m told that the guy who wrote it retired, and now it sits in the corner with no one really understanding the code, simply updating it with new schedule data for each change.

      I’m not sure that’s true, though.

      1. It was developed by a vendor. The guy who maintained Trip Planner for many years did retire last year. Trip Planner was set up well over 10 years ago, has barely been update since, and Metro does not have staff who have the technical training or skill to make improvements. Any improvements have to be purchased from the vendor. They are planning to invest $$$ to improve it, though. They should be encouraged to make public how they plan to improve it, who’s making the decisions, what their priorities are, and how much it’s going to cost.

    2. Personally, I think it’s too late to improve trip planner. It’s definitely too later for the BUS-TIME service. Lots and lots of routes with no stop numbers or stop numbers that give nothing when you try to access them.

      Whenever I can I use One Bus Away.

      1. Y’all do know that Metro Trip Planner, Tracker, One Bus Away, Sound Transit trip planner, Google Transit, etc., etc. all pull from the same database right? There is no difference in the source info. It’s just in how it’s packaged.

  3. I’ve tried the Trip Planner on several occasions, and most of the time got sub-optimum connections at the top of the list. I recently inquired about commuter service from Monroe to downtown Seattle, and T.P. sent me on a bus to Everett to catch the Sounder! (Instead of the direct CT express bus that makes the trip in about half the time.)

    I shudder to think about all the riders who take T.P. info at face value and end up on needlessly time-consuming journeys. My advice has always been Don’t Rely On Trip Planner!

      1. Ironically, I’ve had very unsatisfactory results from Google for the Seattle area transit directions.

    1. “I shudder to think about all the riders who take T.P. info at face value and end up on needlessly time-consuming journeys.”

      I have many really funny stories involving passengers with a printout from Trip Planner. I really should blog about them…

      My favorite involves all of the folks told by TP to take my 342 from Bellevue Transit Center up to Brickyard Park & Ride to transfer to the 535 heading towards Lynnwood. Um… Yeah… Good idea.

      1. Unfortunately, humans aren’t perfect either. One night at around 9:30, I was on a 44/43, and a passenger was trying to get to Bellevue Transit Center. The driver told him to get off at Montlake and catch a 545. I overheard and tried to tell the passenger that he might want to get off at Convention Place for the 550, but (unsurprisingly) he chose to trust the driver instead.

        He probably waited about 45 minutes for a bus that took him completely out of his way…

  4. I dont know that it is even Flawed Software,
    My guess is that there are a bunch of hidden optimization variables used in the planner, and that these variables have not been tweeked since link came online

    Also since link has “no posted schedule” the optimizer may be leaning towards the routes with “Posted schedules” as a preference, not wanting to leave people standing for an extended period of time (also how do you calculate connection and wait times, if something has “No Posted Schedule” (yes you can derive the schedule)

    Lor Scara

  5. That’s actually faster than the Sound Transit trip planner:

    Walk 0.2 mile N from COLUMBIA CITY STATION to
    Depart Sound Transit Light Rail & S Alaska St At 07:31 AM On Route MT LINK LIGHT RAIL
    Arrive Transit Tunnel & Intl Dist Station BAY At 07:43 AM
    Walk 0.1 mile N to
    Depart S Jackson St & 5th Ave S At 07:55 AM On Route MT 99 WATERFRONT
    Arrive 1st Ave S & S Jackson St At 07:59 AM
    Transfer to
    Depart 1st Ave S & S Jackson St At 08:06 AM On Route MT 22 WHITE CENTER
    Arrive Sw Ida St & 41st Ave Sw At 08:37 AM
    Walk 0.4 mile E to 35TH AVE SW & SW IDA ST

    1. It’s the same software. Oddly, I was totally unable to get Link in any result, no matter what I did.

      1. I’ve run into this problem before and I had to break up my trip into two sections before I could get it to work.

        For the most part, it is actually a decent piece of software given the difficulty of the problem it attempts to solve. Until I get familiar with the route(s), or for occasional trips, it usually gets me where I want to go.

        I think they should go open source too in the long run, although someone still has to implement it. In the short term, it might cost less money to let a few problems stack up, then get a vendor to make the necessary tweaks.

        Also, since the google transit feed data is available, competing trip planners can be stood up, say as student projects.

  6. I’ve actually had problems that are quite the opposite: trying to get from Federal Way to Seattle the trip planner suggests 574/Link instead of the much faster 578.

  7. Does anyone find any benefit of using the trip planner over using Google Maps? I made the switch and haven’t looked back. If we just want a system that works as well as Google maps, why not just encourage people to use the better platform?

    p.s. Google Maps + One Bus Away = swoon.

    1. Google Maps’ page size is ~3x the size of Trip Planner’s, which translates to ~3x the page load time (easily 20s on a 56k). That could be a significant impediment for users on older computers or slower connections, which I imagine is a significant portion of Metro’s ridership base. The few times I’ve tried to use Google Maps on a 56k modem, there were time-out issues with the page or map tiles. And if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t need a fancy graphical representation of your trip, all that waiting is completely pointless.

      Google Maps also lacks some of the options that Trip Planner has. Google Maps ranks route based on time, which is usually what most folks are going for—but I like that Trip Planner lets you opt for “fewest transfers” or “least walking”. Google Maps will probably give results that fit those criteria too, but they’ll be farther down and the user will have to hunt for them. And I’ve never needed the accessible trip option, but I imagine for some riders that option is indispensable.

      Personally it’s inertia that’s kept me using Trip Planner. It works well enough most of the time, and the speed and customizability are nice. Though I did finally set up a quick search bookmark for Google Maps Transit (, which takes care of a lot of the slowness (no having to load the page just to submit locations, then reload it for results). Now I just have to remember to use it, rather than falling back on my Trip Planner habit.

    2. Google maps results do not provide a setting for walk length and sets a default of at least 1/2 mile. This creates bizarre results like walk from downtown to capitol hill (or vice versa).

      Also, and I don’t know how one would incorporate this, but for many destinations near pioneer square, you could literally take almost any southbound bus or train in the DSTT or on third ave but if you plot a route as I did to get from 10th and e john to near Qwest field, Google maps will plot out a specific bus even though many buses or trains may come ahead of that one specifically chosen route.

      1. Ha, that reminds me that Google will tell you that the SLU Streetcar is a great way to get to the Capitol Hill library. I assume there’s some sort of rail bias, and it is less than 1/2 mile… up a cliff.

        I wonder if there’s some sort of smarts about hills in the KC Metro Trip Planner? That would certainly be worth saving.

      2. I think maybe Google has an automatic stronger preference for one-seat rides than the trip planner. So they tell you to walk further on each end because there’s one route that will get you there, rather than shorter walks plus transfers.

    3. I’ve seen some weird things on Google Maps where it suggests you get on a bus for like 3 minutes, in what is essentially wait time. Unfortunately I can’t reproduce it.

  8. King County’s Trip Planner is in need of a massive makeover. Quite possibly KCM’s most heavily used online tool is running some software or is using some underlying data desperately in need of an upgrade. Compared to what TriMet has produced and people in their *freetime* (and not just Brian at OBA) have made, KCM’s trip planner is archaic.

    The software itself works and gives itineraries that will eventually get you there, so my opinion is that KCM is in a position comfortably telling themselves “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” However, in today’s immediacy, eventually getting there is nowhere near as good as getting there as fast as possible (given the fact that you’re taking public transit). If someone was taking 2 buses and has to wait 15 minutes for the next one to arrive, but the bus before it is running 2 minutes behind schedule can be caught, that can shave 20 minutes off the trip.

    Or perhaps they have a bicycle and are willing to zip through traffic in order to catch the next bus. About two years ago, I would consistently ride the 306/312 into downtown and it was consistently 5 minutes late enough to have me miss my next bus in downtown. I would consistently bike from the Convention Center to 2nd and Washington and catch that next bus on time versus waiting an extra 30 minutes.

    Aside from the trip planner and website, the next greatest thing KCM has been doing for the benefit of rider information is releasing their data (both scheduled and real-time) to the public for free. Ultimately it may be in their best interest to shut down their own trip planner and let the free market provide a trip planner. However, I think KCM is too scared to do that.

    1. What is it about TriMet that we are always comparing KCM against them? Is it because they one agency serving the entire Portland area? Is it that they are just that lean that they can afford to create a functioning trip planner, an understandable website, GPS system on all their buses and real-time information at their light rail stations? I could swear I heard that TriMet is having horrible budget problems, worse than KCM, yet why is it that they seem to be able to deliver more?

      1. Budgetary problems at TriMet aside, they have always been willing and striving to innovate in technology for the bus rider – something that KCM or for that matter many many other transit agencies do not do.

  9. Just use the “send feedback about these results” link to notify KCM of the issue. It is not the software, it is a setting in the data that is missing. It can be fixed instantly.

    Google Transit doesn’t provide full regional data nor calculate the (cash and ORCA) fare.

  10. One thing we need is a trip planner that doesn’t require a time, but gives general sets of routes that will get you where you need to go at different times of day, and the duration of each leg. Granted, transfer time is an issue…

  11. I once used Trip Planner to plan a route from a downtown intersection (5th & Pike) to a business on Broadway on Capitol Hill. Trip Planner told me to take a 70-series bus from the DSTT to the U-District, then the 49 southboundto Broadway.

    Also, Trip Planner seems unaware that ST 578 stops at Auburn Station (always suggests transfers at FWTC, even when Auburn would be faster).

  12. How much more would it cost to maintain a staff of trained information operators on duty 24 hours a day like if we were still a first-world city- and also to see to it that to be considered qualified on any route, a driver must have a good understanding of locations and connections relevant to that route?

    Mark Dublin

  13. I end up using Google Maps to plan trips, because I like being able to see the streets and businesses when I’m going somewhere new, and being able to see on a map where I’ll be going. Of course I keep the Metro information number on my phone in case I screw up. I haven’t had to ever use it, but its nice to know the human touch is there.

    That said, there are some transit agencies that only provide timetables, maps and human assistance, a much less user-friendly set up. Iowa City for example has a rather 20th century online trip planner( href=” You go to a form that looks kind of like KC Metro’s trip planner and enter the same information. The difference is that the submit button sends the user data off to somebody in the city’s transit staff who figures out your trip when they have free time during their work day and then emails the trip to you.

  14. It does seem to put in some unnecessary transfers. For instance, when I put the same locations in the sample above for an arrival at 8:00, it did give me a Link trip, but it had me transfer to the 99 to get from International District Station to 1st Ave. It did the same thing when I planned a trip from Federal Way Transit Center to north Seattle. It told me to ride Route 578 to Howell/9th and then ride Route 70 back to 3rd Ave. It should have suggested I get off at 4th/University and walk to 3rd Ave possibly saving me a half-hour on travel time. It also shows the wrong fare for Federal Way to Seattle.

  15. Someone mentioned it above already, all the agencies use the same data, just different front-ends. Community Transit has the best application by far in my opinion. I really like the fare breakdown.

    KC’s site leaves much to be desired.

    I’ve heard ST is working with all the transit agencies to develope an actual ST front-end with maps for your planned trip, cool!

  16. Tried to plan a trip from Lynnwood to the Seattle REI once. It had me take a bus that got off the freeway right by the REI (Stewart St. exit), take the bus to 6th and Stewart, cross the street to 6th and Olive, wait several minutes to catch the bus back the few blocks to get off at Howell and Yale. Lucky me, I knew better and just got off the first bus at REI. I get all sorts of weird itineraries now and then, but I think that one is still one of my favorites.

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